With one two point loss to lowly Cronulla on a Saturday afternoon in Bathurst comes many questions.
The biggest question of all is whether the Panthers will do enough on the field over the next six weeks to make the top eight.
Penrith fans feel rightly confused at the moment as they look at this upcoming period and consider the unthinkable – the side could miss the finals despite being near the top of the ladder for most of the year.
Yep, one two point loss and we’re now considering scenarios that didn’t even enter our heads a week ago.
The team could probably be forgiven if it did all collapse in a heap – Peter Wallace is gone for the year, the run home is awful and the squad is most likely a year or two away from its peak.
At least that’s what the players can use to justify the end result and make sure they head off on their end of season holiday in a positive frame of mind.
It’s almost like a gambler who wins $10,000, loses it but tells his friends he came out even. Truth is he lost $10,000 somewhere along the line but he justifies it in his own mind because his bank balance is the same as it was when he walked in to the casino. True story, but that’s not the aim of the game, is it? You want to win, not break even.
Fast forward to six weeks from now and if Penrith are preparing for a finals celebration rather than Mad Monday (probably minus the lingerie waitresses this year), it will be because they’ve stood up to be counted against the best and most dangerous sides in the competition.
The loss to Cronulla last weekend certainly hurt, but the only thing the side can rue is missing out on the two competition points. The critics would have said that the Panthers “only beat the Sharks”, the ‘pretenders’ tag would still exist and Ivan Cleary would have moved the squad on quicker than it took to drive the team bus down the Great Western Highway.
The two points were important but the next six weeks were always going to be what really mattered. For the Panthers, the finals were always scheduled six weeks early and now the side that everyone claims has had the competition’s easiest draw can prove themselves during what is arguably the toughest run home of any club.
Penrith may have had luck on their side at times but now luck has nothing to do with it. We know that the side has the ability. We know that players like Matt Moylan, Jamal Idris, Dean Whare, Jamie Soward, James Segeyaro, Elijah Taylor and Bryce Cartwright are some of the game’s most exciting players who could, on their day, tear an opposition to shreds.
Whether they are good players or great players could in part be decided over the next six weeks.
Can Soward produce a better kicking game than Josh Reynolds or Trent Hodkinson against the Bulldogs at ANZ?
Can Moylan outclass Brett Stewart on the hallowed Brookvale Oval turf?
Can Taylor tackle like he’s never tackled before against a Warriors side that are the experts in second phase football?
What else happens in the next six weeks?
Does Cartwright go from emerging talent to fully blown superstar with a breakout period we’ll remember forever?
Does Soward silence the critics for good by leading Penrith’s finals charge despite his halves partner being gone for the year?
Does Idris put any lingering doubts to rest by producing the kind of football we all know he is capable of?
Whether or not the players have the mental strength between the ears, the physical strength after a long season of bruises and niggling injuries or the passion and desire required is the big question.
Sink or swim – how badly do they want it? If Penrith battle the murky waters of the next six weeks and survive, nobody will have the right to call them pretenders anymore.
Tip: Panthers by 4